Throw The First Stone


Tonight’s blog is a bit more personal to me than some.  Throughout most of my life, I’ve tried to do the right thing.  I’ve sought after God, I’ve served my community, I’ve loved my family, and I’ve tried to be good to everyone I meet.  Yet, like all of us, there have been times when I’ve fallen flat on my face from poor decisions; sometimes hurting those I love the most.

During those times of personal failure, whether public or not, I’ve experienced the wonderful grace of a loving God.  People, on the other hand, have been another story.  What is so freely given by our heavenly father, is difficult to come by from some of those whom we share this beautiful world with.

Surely, there are those to whom forgiving others is as natural as eating and sleeping.  Why is it so much easier for some than others to forgive?  From my own experience, it’s because they too have been in a place where they were in need of forgiveness themselves and found it.

For the past several days I’ve had the Bible story of the woman caught in adultery in my heart.  In Jesus’s time, if caught in the act of adultery as she was, it was punishable by stoning; to death.  This woman, who had been caught in the act, was dragged before Jesus who was sitting and writing on the ground. 

As the woman pleaded for mercy, her accusers quoted the law to Jesus and asked His opinion as to what they should do all the while trying to trap Him.   At that moment, I’m sure His mind was far less concerned with their judgmental testing of His faith than it was of her brokenness; both for being caught and knowing her brokenness before being caught. 

His response to them sums up the entire gospel for me and it is one of my favorite quotes in the Bible.  He looked at them and said, ‘He who is guilty of no sin, throw the first stone…’   One by one they dropped their stones on the ground knowing they too were adulterers, liars, and broken vessels.  Left alone with the woman, Jesus asked her where her accusers were, and she said they were gone.  He looked at her and said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more’. 

All of us have been on one side of that story in our lives.  I know I have.  I have had to fight the sense of self-righteousness when it swelled within while seeing the fallen sit on trial; whether in court or in the court of public opinion.  I’ve also been on the receiving end of those with stones accusing me of both true and untrue offenses, gleefully ready to stone me to death out of ‘righteous’ anger. 

Jesus settled the issue for us in one pivotal moment in time by asking us all to judge ourselves before judging others and then extending undeserved grace & mercy.  His simple, yet powerful example of love goes beyond our ability to fully comprehend leaving us with the same choice; if any of us are without sin, then we can throw the first stone.  The reality is, none of us are without fault.

This is a hard thing for some who have felt betrayed or hurt. The need for the offender to pay a price takes over, and if allowed to flourish, brings bitterness; the end thereof turning into hate itself.   Self-righteousness blinds us from hate and can even keep us from receiving the forgiveness we seek as God has promised to not forgive us if we can’t forgive others.

Whether you’ve been on either side of that story, know tonight that the same grace Jesus gave to the woman that day, he extends to us today.  When we put our stones down, He will forgive us our sins.  And, when others have judged us to death, because of His rich mercy and grace, the same forgiveness is extended by His hand to us too.   That’s the miracle of God’s love; Jesus.

Kick the Can


One of the games we used to play while walking to school or while walking downtown to grab a candy bar at The News Stand, was ‘Kick the Can’.   It was a simple game really.  We played keep away while kicking the can down the road.  It was more soccer than anything else, but with a can.

 In an odd way, I used to feel a bit sorry for that can.  By the time we reached our destination, it was dented up, beaten down, and sometimes smashed completely flat by one of us.  For the cost of just a throwaway can, much joy was gained, and a few kids were kept out of trouble.   

 A lot can be said about that old can I would feel sorry for.  I guess I sort of saw it as myself at the time; the one who was picked on and bullied.  I played the game more defensively trying to protect the can from other players who liked to smash it just out of meanness. 

I knew I wasn’t the can, but even today, I feel that way about the helpless and vulnerable; those who feel like life has constantly played with their lives kicking them down the street or just discarding them in the trash.  In some ways, I’ve felt that way myself on several occasions and, believe me, I know how that feels.

You may be feeling like that tonight; as though life has looked you over and tossed you out.  Maybe you feel like you’ve been used by others to help their career advance only to leave you behind.  You may even feel like your life is spiraling down a steep hill having been kicked aside just waiting for the final foot to fall smashing you to the ground.  That once shiny can, new and bright with colors, you once felt like, is now sitting in the mud rusting away.  It seems like only a matter of time before you’re gone, and you no longer have any purpose.  Hope has turned to despair and the fullness inside is now empty.

If that is you tonight, I want to encourage you that there is still hope.  You may feel left behind, stepped on, and like you’re wasting away, but underneath that rusty finish is the strong metal you were made of.  Sure, it may have some bruises and dents, but it’s still there.  With enough fire from heaven and handy work of the Master, it can be reshaped into something beautiful, useful, and strong again.  The rust and dirt will be washed away leaving only a shining finish reflecting His creative touch. 

All you need to do is offer Him your life as a vessel for Him to shape.  He’s looking for broken vessels to put back together again; reshaping them into something new and beautiful.  You may be just what He’s looking for.  I know I am…

The Real Paris – Recognizing Temptation


Sometimes, I get a kick out of the town names in Texas.  Ones like Ding Dong, Nameless, Gun Barrel City, Paradise, Loco, Cut and Shoot, Jot ‘Em Down, Woman Hollering Creek, Whitehouse, and Telephone, Texas.   There is one name I particularly like, and that’s Paris, Texas.

Located not too far from where we live, I asked the Mrs one time if she would like me to take her to Paris.  She said ‘YES!’.  So, I did.  It was about a 40-minute drive.  She wasn’t too terribly disappointed about not going to the real Paris (we may one day) because we did do some antique shopping.

For anyone who hears the town name of Paris, they immediately think of romance; the French cuisine, the Eifel Tower, floating down the Seine River on a gondola smelling flowers and tasting wine, and enjoying beautiful architecture.  Yes, and even one of the Mrs’s favorite movies, ‘French Kiss’.  The allure is hypnotizing to the point that one can begin to see French design even in those old Texas buildings. 

The truth is, however, it’s not France.  It’s a small Texas town outside of the mainstream cities with a few good stores and a great name.  But, for fun, it’s a great trip to take (even if it’s just so you can say you’ve been to ‘Paris’). 

On a more serious note, the analogy reminds me of temptation.  When we’re tempted, we’re promised something we think will bring us pleasure.  The allure, the smell, the fantasy, and that potential pleasure leads us to a place we thought we would never go, only to find an empty shell of what we thought it would be.  In the same way, we could call those temptations Paris.  Only, we know they won’t be what they promise. 

We all face temptation.  Even Jesus did.  What will help us from falling into it is the awareness that what we’re being promised isn’t a romantic boat ride down the river with the smell of flowers and the taste of fresh wine.  No, it’s a long drive down a rocky, country road that will lead us to an abandoned, empty place alone and far away from others.

Just knowing how to recognize that enticement is most of the battle in defeating temptation.  If we can gain the wisdom to know that something is too good to be true, along with the dangers it’s hiding, we will keep ourselves, and many of those around us, from much pain. 

So, the next time the enemy of your soul comes knocking offering you the world (or a trip to Paris, France), tell him to take a hike because you know what’s found at the end of that journey is nothing but pain and emptiness…

Unconditional


How many times have you ever received a promotional mailer, email, or just heard a salesman offer you something that sounded too good to be true only to find out there were so many conditions attached that it might as well have been impossible?  I know I have; at least a thousand times.  The bait and switch method of marketing is all around us trying to lure us into something that will benefit others more than ourselves.

It seems that our culture has evolved into a culture of give to get.  In order to get what we want, we need to fulfill someone else’s set of rules, processes, and requirements to receive what we’re looking for. It starts in our grade schools.  If you want to be accepted, you need to be pretty, funny, athletic, or rich.  If you fail to meet the criteria of being ‘popular’, then you’re tossed aside and expected to stay out of the way.

The same is true with adults in ways that aren’t so obvious.  Work, friends, family, and even church have expectations on us that, if we fail to meet, we’re either ostracized or looked down upon.  It’s as though acceptance and love have strings. 

Conversely, have you ever met someone who just loved you for who you are?  It didn’t matter what you said, how you acted, or what you did, they just kept on loving you no matter what.  Many of us probably think of a parent or that one friend in our life who stands out above all the rest.  Others of us may have never known such acceptance.  Their life may have been full of rejection, failed expectations, and cruelty from those who only wanted to take from them.

Life can be cruel.  There is no doubt about that.  Adding to the harshness of this world we live in is the reality that we are all flawed.  None of us are perfect (though some would never admit that).  At the heart of us all is the inherent need for love and acceptance no matter what we do; the longing for unconditional love.

I’ve been fortunate to have had numerous people in my life who have loved me not matter what I do.  Several good friends, my mother, and wife being among them.  Sure, I may have (and still do) driven them crazy from time-to-time, but at the end of the day I could rest assured that they would still be there and love me for just being me.

At the opposite end, unforgiveness is one of the most destructive forces in our world.  The lack of accepting another because they have failed us, hurt us, or done something we see as unforgiveable, tears at the very fabric of our society.  It leads a person straight down the road to hate.  Once there, it’s very difficult for them to turn back.  I’ve been on the receiving end of that hate in my life for things I haven’t even done.  To see how that unforgiveness has wreaked havoc in those people’s lives is a sad thing to see.

Fortunately for all of us, there is only one whom we ultimately need to find acceptance from; God.  I say fortunately because of all there is in this world, there is one thing I know without any doubt; that our creator and heavenly father loves us with a love that goes beyond our limited human understanding. 

His love is truly unconditional.  No matter what our church, our friends, or even our parents have taught us, His love is without end.  There is no stopping God from loving us just as we are.  His love sees through the messiness, the heartache, and the pain to the soul He created inside of us.  It reaches beyond the judgment, the false accusations, the betrayal, and the hurt to bring healing and acceptance; not because of what we do, but because of who He is. 

If you’re struggling with rejection, fear, and unworthiness, know that there’s nothing you can do to earn His favor; you already have it.  All you need to do is accept it by faith.  It’s just waiting for you.  No matter what life may have thrown at you, you are loved today by the God of all creation; unconditionally and without hesitation…